Saturday, January 03, 2009

Review: School of Seven Bells - Alpinism

March is here! I love this time of year, when you can just sense Thomas’ “force that through the green fuse drives the flower” starting to build.

We visited the Victorian dinosaurs at Crystal Palace the other day. The park had been overseen by Richard Owen, arch anti-Darwinist and the man who first described the reptilian fossils that were pouring out the new world as “terrible lizards”, or dinosaurs.

But in the middle years of the 19th century (the park was designed as a companion to the Great Exhibition), not a great deal was known about how to reconstruct from the fossils how the living creatures may have appeared. The solutions were creative. Only have the head of a great sea reptile? Then hide the body by having its head poke terrifyingly from the water. Don’t know what the head of the dinosaur looked like? Face the model away from the audience. Most notoriously, they placed iguanodon’s thumb spike on its snout. Also apparent is the common presumption that the dinosaurs were akin to slow-moving and cold-blooded reptiles like the crocodiles, dragging their bellies and tails on the floors, rather than the highly active, often bipedal, poikilotherms they were, typically holding their tales aloft for balance. It’s not just dinosaurs. There’s a marvellous giant sloth (Megatherium), some colossal Irish Elk and some very odd-looking pterodactyls.

I’m rambling. What I wanted to say was this: it was a beautiful cold blue day. Exactly like a day in Autumn in fact. But instead of the melancholy of encroaching winter, there’s the excitement of approaching Spring, when the trees will “begin afresh, afresh, afresh”.

Goodness, I'm still rambling. What I really wanted to talk about was School of Seven BellsAlpinism. Here’s another band doing exciting research with drone dynamics, rather than just slavishly shoe-gazing. What does Alpinism sound like? Like the better bits of Golden Palominos’ album Pure. Like My Bloody Valentine with, like, audible lyrics and fantastic singers and harmonies. Like Imogen Heap, if her attempts to rock out weren’t somewhat embarrassing.

First song “Iamundernodisguise” sounds precisely as I always wish Ladytron would but never do. “Face to Face on High Places” has a chorus riding upon a truly swooshsome wave of noise, as does “Half Asleep”, even if the latter's chord sequence is hardly original. “Wired for Light” judders forth on a squealing middle-eastern figure (a la “Galvanize”), mixing winsome melodies with wide galactic spaces before ending in a blissful vocal round. It's delectably dreamy.

After that, the album loses some spark, and starts trading noise for nice, rarely a smart move: they start sounding like a second-rate Garbage. But, even if only for the first handful of songs, they make a joyful noise unto to the creater.

Happy March!

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